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Posts Tagged ‘dye plants’

Flax-August

First Flax pulled – August, 2013

I started pulling the Flax on August 4th. It’s still quite green, but there is some yellow in the stems and seed heads. I’ll continue to pull and dry bunches of it until it gets browner and then I’ll finish pulling the rest. This is about 80 days since it was sown, and this gradual pulling approach should take me to the 100 day mark. The bunches already pulled are sitting under an overhang, but still get a lot of sun and warmth. I hope that pulling it while still immature will yield a finer fibre.

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Coreopsis (Dyer’s Tickseed)

The Coreopsis (Dyer’s Tickseed) is doing well, and I should get out there and collect some flower heads for a small dye vat. This clump seeded itself, but the area I planted this Spring, is just starting to come into flower. Along the roads, the Goldenrod is blooming – another plant I’d like to use this summer. Golden flowers are overtaking the garden – a last glow of summer sunshine!

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CottonBlossomThere are a few seeds that I like to order and start early as they require a long growing season. The first of these is cotton. It is hit or miss trying to get mature bolls in my climate zone (3), but I try anyway as it’s a nice plant with a beautiful, if short-lived, flower. This year I’ve ordered Erlene’s Green Cotton, Mississippi Brown Cotton and Sea Island White Cotton from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I still have plenty of Uplands Cotton seeds from my 2011 crop, so I’ll likely plant some of those too.

Last year’s cotton plants were rather sickly, so I only got a few stunted bolls, and I’ll discard any seeds that formed as I’d rather start with healthy seeds.

My second order was for Japanese Indigo (Dyer’s Knotweed) seeds. I’ve planted some of these directly in the garden, but they had only started to bloom when the season ended. I brought a few indoors and they have continued to produce blooms, but it doesn’t look like there’s much viable seed there and now they are dying back. I’m ordering these again from Companion Plants – one of the few seed houses I’ve found that carries them.

Third order is more Madder seed. My 2 year-old plants looked good last summer, but so far none have produced any blooms or seeds. I’d like to get some more plants going, and I’ll also try to start some from cuttings. Madder seeds germinate reliably and it’s nice to have a sure-bet in the flats. These I get from Horizon Herbs, and they are also hard to find.

I think I now have a life-time supply of woad seeds after letting a few plants over-winter and bloom. Just have to remember to scatter them once the ground is bare. Another plant that’s easy to grow.

The rest of the cold months should be dedicated to spinning and mordanting a supply of yarn so that I’ll be ready to go when the dye plants are ready to harvest next summer.

Next on the order list is fibre flax seed – still need to calculate how much I can reasonably sow in a limited space before I place my order.

It’s never too early to start planning next summer’s garden – hope you enjoy the process as much as I do.

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It’s been a good year for the vegetable garden, which prompted me to try to extend the season a little longer. A second planting of edible pod peas in August has produced a nice crop and there are still a few blossoms on the vines, even though we’ve had many below-freezing nights already.

Pea blossoms

 

 

As the night temperatures dropped below freezing, I covered a small raised bed in which a second crop of cilantro and some garlic has been planted. The smaller the plants, the better the flavour it seems with cilantro, so it’s a good candidate for periodic replanting. The colder it gets, the more layers I’ve added so the bed now has two layers of crop cover material and a clear plastic shower curtain on top supported by 3′ high plastic hoops. The air temperature inside varies between -2 C and 8 C and the cilantro and garlic both seem to be fine with this temperature range. The days are short and often overcast, so the rate of growth is not what it is in the summer, but I still have hopes of a little more fresh cilantro this Fall.

Cilantro and Garlic in covered bed

It hasn’t been a good year for the cotton plants, but they are now inside again, and there are some buds and the occasional blossom and boll, but these are much later then they were last year, when blossoms were more numerous and fewer buds were dropped. I’ll try for fewer plants in deeper pots next season to see if that helps. In the meantime, I’ll try to overwinter the strongest plants from this season and see if they eventually produce some fibre.

The dye plants are looking healthy, and I’m tempted to harvest another cutting of Woad before the leaves are covered with snow for the winter.

Woad leaves in November

Madder – first season plant

Weld – first season plants

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First Cotton Seedlings

This is the second year (third for flax growing) of my project to produce cloth from my garden.

As I live in Ontario, Canada (not exactly in the heart of cotton country), I plant cotton seeds indoors well before the local growing season begins. Last year my cotton plants stayed in pots outside all summer and came indoors again in the autumn so the bolls could continue to ripen.

Four days ago I planted some of the seed saved from last year and today some have already germinated! I’m sure they were slower last year, but this time they are sitting on a heat mat which really speeds up germination (for seeds that like warm soil).

I have four varieties planted: Pima, Upland, Green and Brown.

If enough seeds germinate, I’ll try planting some out in the garden and depending on their progress, cover them with a hoop shelter in the fall if they need a little extra time to mature. Cotton has up to a 160 day growing cycle, which is a challenge, but the plants are attractive with lovely hibiscus-like blossoms. The fibre is fun to spin and, unlike flax, does not require a great deal of preparation.

Cotton spun on a spindle and plied on a wheel

Last summer I also grew my first Japanese Indigo plants and collected seed from a few plants that were brought indoors in the autumn at the blooming stage. It was hard to tell if the seed was maturing, or if the plants were just dying back, so I’ve put a few seeds between wet paper towels in a plastic tub to test their viability. They are starting to put out little shoots which is very promising.

If all goes well, I’ll be able to extract some indigo and dye a little of the cotton – adding blue to the natural colour pallet of white, green and brown.

The yarn shown was spun on my little takli spindle (shown) and then plied on my spinning wheel. It is not my home-grown cotton yet – I’m still practising with the cotton that came with the spindle from Joan Ruane. Many Thanks Joan!

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Woad Plant

The Woad and Japanese Indigo plants in the garden have grown reliably, as have the Indigo plants in pots in the porch. I took a first harvest of all three types of leaves and tried my first-ever indigo vat(s).

There were about 102 grams of Woad leaves, so I processed them following the directions in Jenny Dean’s book “Wild Colour”.

Combined, the Indigo and Japanese Indigo leaves only weighed 35 grams, so I tossed them together in a second pot.

The directions for Woad called for boiling water poured over the leaves, which resulted in a nice brew that looked like rooibos tea. Soda ash is then added and the mixture is whisked to incorporate air. The oxygen is then removed by adding thiourea dioxide. Small skeins of cotton and wool were dipped and then exposed to air, at which point they developed a shade of blue.

The directions for Japanese Indigo called for cold water that is then heated to just below boiling temperature. This is the point where I started to go wrong. I let it boil, and then didn’t see any change in colour, so I kept adding soda ash and thiourea dioxide. Still no reaction until I dipped the wool skein which foamed up and promptly disintegrated. The cotton skein didn’t fall apart like the wool, but didn’t pick up any colour either. I think I had way too little dye-stuff to start with, and added way too much soda ash. I added the cotton skein to the Woad pot which added a pale blue shade when exposed to the air.

Left: Cotton dyed with Woad. Middle: Wool dyed with Woad. Right: Cotton added to Woad pot after most of the dye was exhausted.

Here are the results. The Woad was especially nice and easy to work with and I’ll try all three plants again, but it will be a challenge getting enough Indigo leaves as they weigh next to nothing.

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Today the flax fibres can be separated easily from the smooth central core and reasonably well from the outer bark layer, so it looks like retting is complete. It’s been rinsed and is lying out in the sun and I will try breaking it in a few days once it’s dry. Most of this flax straw is about 30 inches long. This year’s crop is still a little shorter, and is blooming beautifully.

The dye plants are coming along (shown are Bedstraw, Weld and Japanese Indigo in front of the flax patch), although I’d like to see a greater quantity of leaves to harvest for dyeing. The best performer in the dye garden is the Japanese Indigo. The Madder plant that I pulled up by mistake had lovely orangey roots.

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This year’s fig crop (the first!) has increased by 50% with the arrival of Fig Three. Fig One and Fig Two are growing steadily, and are still firm and green.

Another little branch has formed too, which is good news as we are trying to achieve a bush shape which is a challenge with only three branches.

As it’s only the end of June, there’s a strong possibility that these will ripen, and I hope we get them before the critters do.

There’s another development to report – I think the Uplands Cotton plant is going to bloom – this doesn’t look like another leaf and there are some very tiny but similar buds on some of the other plants. This one is far ahead of the others in size.

I’ve read that cotton likes the same sort of fertilizer as tomatoes, so I’ve added a tomato spike to each pot.

The Indigo is growing, but looks like it could also use a boost, so I’ve added tomato spikes to each pot here too.

There will have to be significant leaf growth to produce enough leaves for fibre dyeing.

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